The Warriors made a loud statement Saturday afternoon at Oracle Arena, reminding the rest of the playoff field they are the defending champions with an impressive 113-92 win over the Spurs in Game 1 of their first-round series.
Golden State captured a 57-41 lead by halftime and never looked back. Klay Thompson led all scorers with an efficient 27 points (11-of-13 from the field, 5-of-6 from 3-point range), but it was an overall team effort that put San Antonio in a 1-0 hole to start the postseason.
Here are three reasons why the Warriors didn't have much trouble defeating the Spurs...
1. Steve Kerr's tweaks to the starting lineup paid off in a big way.
The Warriors went with a starting five of Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and JaVale McGee, leading to questions about how the unit might function without a traditional point guard. Oh, and that lineup had logged zero minutes together during the regular season.
It turns out Kerr might just have a good handle on how to coach his team.
By the end of the first quarter, the Warriors had jumped out to an 11-point lead behind a terrific all-around effort from McGee. The big man scored nine points on 4-of-5 shooting in the opening frame and bothered All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge with his length and athleticism.
Aldridge post-ups were a huge part of San Antonio's offense in the regular season, but forcing the ball to him down low played right into McGee's hands. Gregg Popovich might have to shift gears and use more high pick-and-rolls to make McGee uncomfortable out in space. (Then again, the Warriors could counter by shifting Green or Jordan Bell onto Aldridge in those situations.)
Iguodala didn't offer much scoring, but that has never been his focus for this team. He made sharp passes, played tight defense and stripped multiple Spurs players in the paint. The trio of Thompson, Durant and Green did their usual damage, but the seamless transition into the starting roles by McGee and Iguodala made the difference and left the Spurs in the dust.
2. The Spurs were too willing switch on screens early, leading to easy buckets and matchup advantages for Durant and the rest of the Warriors.
San Antonio ranked fourth in the NBA in defensive efficiency during the regular season behind only the 76ers, Celtics and Jazz. Unfortunately for the Spurs, their Game 1 defense left a lot to be desired.
They switched often in the first quarter, leaving guards like Patty Mills, Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes to contend with Durant. It turned into a practice drill.
Durant simply turned, realized his defender couldn't block his vision and took the open look.
Kevin Durant (11 PTS, 5 REB, 4 AST) is feeling it early for the @warriors! #DubNation #NBAonABC pic.twitter.com/L71sVUEtLk- NBA (@NBA) April 14, 2018
When the Spurs did attempt to challenge Durant, he put on his playmaker hat, dishing out seven assists. The Warriors nearly doubled the Spurs in the assist department (32-19) and had more crisp ball movement in both half-court sets and transition.
Durant is arguably the most complete offensive threat in the league, so wing defenders like Danny Green, Kyle Anderson and Rudy Gay can't leave him on screens, especially ones with minimal physical contact. If that continues to happen, Durant will feast on smaller opponents.
3. The Warriors' defensive intensity overwhelmed a Spurs team missing its best player in Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs weren't going to suddenly turn into an offensive juggernaut after finishing in the bottom half of the league in offensive rating, not to mention 25th and 26th in true shooting and effective field goal percentage. But the Warriors made it clear early on - unless the back of the jersey displayed the name "Aldridge," they weren't concerned.
Double teams flew toward Aldridge in the post, and Golden State's defense rotated on a string to stifle any ball movement. The Spurs shot 32-of-80 (40.0 percent) as a team, including a disappointing 14-point (5-of-12 from the field), two-rebound showing from Aldridge, who was surprisingly outplayed by McGee.
The Warriors largely ignored Murray as an outside threat, preferring to go under screens against the second-year guard. The lack of spacing shrunk the floor for Aldridge and forced the Spurs into contested attempts at the end of the shot clock.
Leonard wouldn't have fixed everything, but his presence would have at least taken some pressure off Aldridge's shoulders and forced the Warriors' defense to bend in his direction. The team has obviously grown accustomed to playing without Leonard in the lineup, but the impact of his absence becomes even more significant on the playoff stage.